I never expected ESPN to not be part of the new baseball contract, but I have to admit I’m left utterly bewildered by the new contract that keeps all three primetime cable games on ESPN… but only gives them a single measly wild card game (and any tiebreakers).
First of all, I’m shocked that ESPN would pay so much (something like double the previous contract) for what basically amounts to the status quo, especially after their vocal commitment to get back into the postseason. I suspect that, even more than getting back into the postseason, ESPN’s real motivation was to blunt NBC and prevent NBC Sports Network from getting into baseball in any way. While TBS’ acquisition of one LCS was negotiated separately from their acquisition of the entire Division Series in the last contract, I don’t see how, if ESPN was going to acquire most of the rest of the postseason similarly, why they wouldn’t announce it now, yet I have a hard time seeing who else might get it. There’s no reason for Fox to suddenly do an about-face and go back to clearing out their October schedule for postseason games, there’s no point in NBC getting baseball without putting games on NBC Sports Network, and there’s no room for any other cable outlet to air regular season games, unless… sigh… the Sunday afternoon package is kept.
I now, sadly, think the most likely outcome is a maintenance of the status quo with the only real change being ESPN’s addition of holiday and tiebreaker/wild card games (and I do suspect ESPN will add some Division Series games later). NBC could take over the Fox package for the broadcast network and the Sunday afternoon package for NBC Sports Network, but considering how crappy the latter package has been, I think it’s more likely that NBC is already focusing on trying to get a piece of the NASCAR package. I also think any chance of Fox putting games on FX or certainly a Fox Sports Network is now out the window, reducing the chances of the latter coming to fruition.
By keeping all three primetime cable games, ESPN just severely crippled the chances of any entity seriously competing with them, and one has to wonder whether NBC will be stuck fighting for scraps forever.